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Hi, you're in the Archives, March 2016 - Part 2



March 2016 - part 1 <--- March 2016 - part 2 ---> April 2016 - part 1


March 31, 2016


Highland Park Ice or Ace?

Sorry about yet another utterly stupid headline. Shame? Yes I feel shame, I should leave those kinds to traffic whores… But right, Highland Park Ice. Completely baffled. We’ll try it, but first, a serious opponent of similar age and strength. Just to be on the safe side…

Highland Park 18 yo 1997/2015 (56.7%, The First Editions, refill hogshead, cask #ref HL12099)

Highland Park 18 yo 1997/2015 (56.7%, The First Editions, refill hogshead, cask #ref HL12099) Four stars and a half We’ve already found quite a few glories within this nice Hunter-Laing-affiliated range. Colour: dark straw. Nose: cider apples, limestone, liquorice wood, broken branches, grass, green tea, grapefruit peel, lamp oil, orange blossom honey, perhaps heather honey, a touch of iodine and mercurochrome, and a wee sake-like touch. A well-chiselled HP, it seems! With water: gets a little smokier and more coastal. Some kelp burning in the distance. Mouth (neat): it’s a sharp, very punchy one, very grassy, chalky, greatly bitter, with bitter oranges and green pepper, more cider apples (you can’t quite eat them), and more liquorice wood. Very green, a style that I enjoy a lot, even if it’s not HP’s sexiest side. With water: excellent, citrusy, a notch rounder but not round at all (hey?)… A very zesty Highland Park, greatly spirit-driven. Finish: long, sharp, precise, citrusy and grassy, with a bitter/mineral aftertaste. Comments: excellently chiselled and sauvignony, as they say in Sancerre. Perhaps a tad simple, because it was probably slow in wood, but what a distillate! SGP:362 - 88 points.

Highland Park 17 yo 'Ice Edition' (53.9%, OB, 30,000 bottles)

Highland Park 17 yo 'Ice Edition' (53.9%, OB, 30,000 bottles) Four stars and a half HP's new flubber. A limited edition of thirty thousand bottles, that sounds a little oxymoronic, doesn’t it. I won’t comment on the strange Valhalla-ish story, or on the hefty price, or on the bizarre flea-market-ready packaging… Because it’s all so ‘different’… And because some earlier extravagant ‘Viking’ bottlings by HP have been pretty much to my liking. So, let’s focus on the liquid if you don't mind … Colour: dark straw. Nose: we’re well in the same family and same style, this Ice is just a notch rounder, with a little more vanilla, perhaps. And certainly more menthol. Yes, there’s quite a lot of menthol and pinesap, but the whole remains pretty austere. With water: same differences, and perhaps a little more sour wood. More bubblegum as well after ten minutes. Mouth (neat): we’re oh-so very close to the 1997 by HL! Same grassy, cidery, herbal, bitter style, same Seville oranges, green wood, green pepper… And snuff. The Vikings again! With water: water reveals more sweet oaky flavours, around coconut oil, but that works very well here. Mint. Finish: quite long, a tad rounder, with some honeys and some barley water. Always a little coconut in the aftertaste, which is globally fruitier. Comments: all in all, this one’s rather rounder and sweeter, probably thanks to some more active wood, but the cores are the same. It’s a tie, same score. SGP:452 - 88 points.

No winner? Let’s try to find one amongst the older glories…

Highland Park 27 yo 1968 (43%, Hart Brothers, Finest Collection, +/-1995)

Highland Park 27 yo 1968 (43%, Hart Brothers, Finest Collection, +/-1995) Five stars We had a 26/1968 by HB back in 2007, and that one was almost perfect. Colour: red amber. Nose: indeed, we have a winner. Many honeys, many precious woods, many soft spices, and many dried fruits, what a combination! I won’t quote them all (figs, like, manuka, like, cedar wood, like…) and rather focus on the tinier bits. Such as these hints of myrtle, or the peonies in full bloom, or the old amontillado, or the tobaccos, or the walnut wine, or these touches of dark pollen… It is a perfect nose, akin to that of some very great old cognac de propriétaire. Mouth: amazing! Only the tiny drying oaky touches make it maybe not totally and utterly stellar, but we’re well in the style of the luminous official ‘John Goodwin’ (and subsequent bottlings, such as the 50). Astounding honeys, dried fruits, precious oils and saps, herbs, oriental spices, oranges… I know, I’m being very generic now, please excuse me, but this is simply another example of a great-great malt whisky from the golden decade. And there are kumquats! Finish: long despite the lower strength, amazingly complex, and perfectly jammy, spicy, and herbal. A great example of a whisky with a worthy finish, which is more and more difficult to find these days. Because mind you, it’s in the finish that you find all the flaws, such as excessive youth, excessive oak, and whatnot. You’re right, even excessive prices (that leave bitter tastes). Comments: an old bottle of ‘Dragon’ quality, if that rings a bell. We have a winner! SGP:561 - 93 points.

(With many thanks to Patrick M.!)

More tasting notes Check the index of all Highland Park I've tasted so far



Block Today: CUBAN. Performer: Omara Portuondo. Track: this week, the obligatory Guajira Guantanamera. Please buy her music...

March 30, 2016


A great trio of Springbank plus aperitif

Archives/Whiskybase have not just one, they have three new Springbanks, all from the same vintage, 1996. Brilliant! We'll try all three, but first, an apéritif. Because that terrible disease that scientists call springbankitus keeps striking us at WF Towers.

Springbank 15 yo (46%, OB, +/-2015)

Springbank 15 yo (46%, OB, +/-2015) Four stars I came across a batch from circa 2014 that I did not like immensely (WF 80), so I'm glad I can taste a newer one. Colour: gold. Nose: ah, gunflints, soot, 'brake pads after the Nürburgring', rubber, walnut stain, cocoa, coffee beans, lamp oil, a wee butyric touch... This is well Springbank, and a pretty dry one, it seems. Mouth: more of all that, some leather, more coffee, aspirin tablets, limestone, sucking rubber bands (at school), green tea, something akin to naphtha, bitter, ultra-dry liquorice... This is really a Springbank that's keeping a stiff upper lip! Very dry and austere... Finish: medium, very dry. Cocoa, leaves, leather... Comments: not once ounce of fruitiness in this baby, so it's probably quite 'segmenting', but I liked it much better than the earlier batch. SGP:262 - 85 points.

Springbank 19 yo 1996/2016 (56.4%, Archives, refill bourbon hogshead, cask #550, 284 bottles)

Springbank 19 yo 1996/2016 (56.4%, Archives, refill bourbon hogshead, cask #550, 284 bottles) Five stars This is the lightest Springbank by Archives as far as colours are concerned. Nice label showing shells that grow around Campbeltown (well, not too sure ;-)). Colour: white wine. Nose: crush as few aspirins, mix with gunpowder and grass juice, add some gun oil, plus drops of crème de menthe, and this Springbank is what you'll get, more or less. It reminds of these stunning official 10s at cask strength. With water: raw wool and hay, mud, chalk, porridge... Mouth (neat): totally sharp and angular, terribly mineral and medicinal (some kind of embrocation), and integrally distillate-driven. It tends to become extremely ashy as well. I'm finding this impeccable, but it's probably rather for die-hard Springbank freaks. I'm one of them. With water: more ashes.  Some kind of secret spirit made for shaolin monks? Finish: medium, very grassy, very ashy. Touches of lemon. Comments: immaculate, crisp undisturbed Springbankness. Difficult and challenging, in a great way. What a coup, Archives! SGP:363 - 91 points.

Springbank 19 yo 1996/2016 (54.9%, Archives, refill bourbon hogshead, cask #551, 239 bottles)

Springbank 19 yo 1996/2016 (54.9%, Archives, refill bourbon hogshead, cask #551, 239 bottles) Five stars Darker and with a smaller outturn, will this one be more concentrated? Colour: pale gold. Nose: we're going more towards the official 15 this time, maybe thanks to some more active wood, but the general profile remains very chalky, medicinal, grassy, and perhaps a notch earthier than that of cask 550. Old puddle with tadpoles ;-). And more aspirin. With water: mud and leather. Mouth (neat): same feeling, it's #550 with more oils and fatness from the oak. More mint and citrus too, which makes it more approachable, and just as perfect. This one's got something of Old Clynelish, honestly. With water: very perfect. Everything's at the right place, iodine, chalk, ashes, smoky things, grass, grapefruits, engine oil... It's all so very well chiselled! Finish: long, ashy, acrid, drying, slightly salty... And perfect. Love the menthol and liquorice that are adding depth and texture. Comments: I should not, but I think I like this one even better than #550. It's a tad easier, but certainly not simpler. Zowie! SGP:363 - 92 points.

Springbank 19 yo 1996/2016 (54.9%, Archives, fresh sherry hogshead, cask #106, 227 bottles)

Springbank 19 yo 1996/2016 (54.9%, Archives, fresh sherry hogshead, cask #106, 227 bottles) Four stars and a half Ah, sherry this time... So more hit or miss, I suppose. Colour: amber. Nose: whether there's actually sulphur or not, I've often noticed that 'modern' Springbank + sherry can generate sulphur-like notes, more or less between asparagus water and truffles. Yes, or town gas. That's what's happening again here, but luckily, that's temporary, and it's rather chocolate that tends to take the lead. Then rather marmalade, dried figs, and cigars. Plus, of course, this usual muddy side. With water: the distillate takes the lead. Chalk, ashes, grass, engine oil... Mouth (neat): really sharp. Plenty of bitter oranges, chalk, these aspirins, sultanas, leather, very tart grapefruits, a drop of seawater... It's all rather peculiar, unusual... And good. With water: some pepper, some unexpected fudge, and bags of Seville oranges. In the background, the usual chalky/medicinal profile. Finish: rather long, a little drying. Leather, black tea, a touch of rubber. Comments: I find this combo a little less 'coherent', but we're still flying pretty high, no doubt. SGP:452 - 88 points.

(and Danke schön Herbert)

More tasting notes Check the index of all Springbank I've tasted so far



Block Today: JAZZ. Performer: Julius Hemphill. Track: Otis' Groove. Please buy his music...

March 29, 2016


New grain whiskies from Scotland

Today let's have more middle-aged and older Scottish grain whiskies (this little session for dear John MacLellan).

Loch Lomond 15 yo 2000 ‘Single Grain XV’ (46%, Dà Mhìle, organic single grain, +/-2015)

Loch Lomond 15 yo 2000 ‘Single Grain XV’ (46%, Dà Mhìle, organic single grain, +/-2015) A single cask, filled at Loch Lomond. They can distil just any kind of spirit at Loch Lomond. Colour: straw. Nose: hello? Perhaps hints of old newspapers, plus drops of cider. Perhaps. Not much happening, this one’s pretty silent. On the other hand, there can’t be any flaws, that’s the better side… Mouth: ouch-y. Raw alcohol, apple liqueur, chamomile, and dried coconut. That’s all, folks. Finish: short, sweetish. Marshmallows, perhaps? Fantasy williams pears? Comments: an ultra-light dram, even Haig Club has more flavours. It’s not technically repulsive, but I just cannot see why and when one would quaff this. Unless you desperately need organic whisky. SGP:320 - 50 points.

North British 26 yo 1989/2015 (58.4%, Cadenhead, World Whiskies)

North British 26 yo 1989/2015 (58.4%, Cadenhead, World Whiskies) Three stars As Uncle Bob used to say, if Cadenhead do grain, it must be special grain. And isn’t it funny that they put this into their ‘world whiskies’ line? I believe, but I could be wrong, that North British were distilling maize at that time. Colour: gold. Nose: yeah well, it’s got a depth and even a wideness that aren’t very ‘grain’. Grass and apple peelings, plus coconut oil and a touch of fresh butter. Butterscotch. With water: whisky for kids. You just need to take the alcohol away. Shortbread, coconut biscuits, and more shortbread. Mouth (neat): hold on, there’s something happening indeed. Some sour wood and coconut water, some sweet beer, IPA style, and a touch of juniper. Right, gin. Not my thing, but it’s neither ugly, nor non-existent. With water: there are even oranges. A wee fizzy touch. Finish: medium to short, orangey. Comments: it’s rather thin but then again, it’s grain. Not quite a fan, but it’s certainly one of the good ones. SGP:530 - 80 points (a high score for grain!).

Port Dundas 24 yo 1991/2016 (55.1%, The Grainman, oloroso finish, cask #7, 282 bottles)

Port Dundas 24 yo 1991/2016 (55.1%, The Grainman, oloroso finish, cask #7, 282 bottles) Three stars The Grainman is a new range by Donald Hart’s The Maltman. Makes sense, doesn’t it. Curious to see what a sherry finish has done to a humble grain. Maybe not such a st***d idea… Colour: straw. Nose: ah yes, this is quite nice. Pastries, croissants, raisin cookies, shortbread…          And most importantly, no over-the-top coconut! Hurray! With water: nice whiffs of sugar cane and light cigars. Reminds me of those cigars I used to smoke when I was 20, called Schimmelpenninck. They were bad but they were smelling good. And I was young. Mouth (neat): eau-de-vie de barley, plus a touch of lavender ice cream, Dutch genever, and burnt kirsch (the distiller was in a hurry). With water: fine. Croissants with a dash of white pepper. Finish: rather short, but the coconut’s still not there. More hurrays. Comments: same overall quality as that of the North British. This one’s drier, but perhaps a little more, say elegant. In a way, maltier. SGP:440 - 80 points.

Lochside 48 yo 1964/2015 (41.2%, Cooper's Choice, sherry butt, cask #6799, 540 bottles)

Lochside 48 yo 1964/2015 (41.2%, Cooper's Choice, sherry butt, cask #6799, 540 bottles) Four stars and a half LOL, when a whisky is 48 years old, do you really need to add on the label that those were ‘long years’? Just joking. As for this being a grain, I guess you know that just like Ben Nevis, Lochside used to shelter a column still along the pot stills for a while. And I remember well a Lochside grain by James MacArthur (green label) that used to be pure rocket fuel. So funny! Colour: amber. Nose: between rum and bourbon, with plenty of pencil shavings. Including pencil lead, mind you. And yet it remained soft like an angel, until more and more turpentine comes out. Along many compounds ending with –ol. I find this beautifully intriguing, but a little scary with regards to the palate. Let’s see… Mouth: the definition of smoothness. It’s a miracle that the oak didn’t take over, and only imparted notes of suntan lotion (right, coconut-based suntan oil). It’s all on pastries, shortbread, croissants, Danish cookies, butterscotch, amaretti… And there are even crystallised cherries somewhere… Maraschino? This is all very delicate, and anything but tired or over-oaked. A genuine miracle… Finish: quite short, but still smooth and balanced. Hazelnut liqueur, perhaps, Werther’s Originals… Comments: it’s almost as old as Keith Richards, and just like Keef, it’s as alive as a newborn kitten (S., that was lame!) A very, very lovely old thing – despite all the pencil shavings. SGP:541 - 88 points.

Perhaps one last grain, because I wouldn't want to overdo a good thing… And speaking of Haig Club…

Cameronbridge 30 yo 1979/2009 (51.3%, Duncan Taylor, Rare Auld, cask #3587, 214 bottles)

Cameronbridge 30 yo 1979/2009 (51.3%, Duncan Taylor, Rare Auld, cask #3587, 214 bottles) Three stars and a half Duncan Taylor had many of these casks in their high days, and indeed I’ve already tried quite a bunch of them. And I often found them ‘very good’ for grain. Colour: gold. Nose: quite a monster after the Lochside, but in fact, the aromas are more or less identical, just more ‘in your face’. Cakes and oak and white chocolate, plus quite a lot of vanilla. Sponge cake. With water: orange soda and banana wine, like they make in Martinique. Or is that Guadeloupe? Worth tasting, but don’t hold your breath. Mouth (neat): rather on the fruity side, with pineapples and apples, then something tropical (pina colada) and an unexpected maltiness. Rather a firmer grain whisky. A varnishy side as well. With water: same. Pineapples and apples. It’s thirty years old fruit juice! Finish: medium, rather clean and fruity. I remember I had thought other casks had something Irish in them. That’s true again. Comments: I don’t know what to add. It was very good, there. SGP:630 - 84 points.

More tasting notes Check the index of all Grains I've tasted so far



Block Today: JAZZ. Performer: Carla Bley with Andy Sheppard and Steve Swallow. Track: Vashkar. Please visit her website and buy her music...

March 28, 2016


Banff 1976-1975-1974, just for fun

Banff. Who remembers Banff? Only old seasoned whisky enthusiasts? And yet it was glorious malt whisky, that any whisky lovers should try to try at least once. In a way, Banff is like Bach (what?), it’s old and a tad antiquated, but you need to know it. Let’s have three of them… And we’ll even do a short verticale, 1976-1975-1974, how does that sound? Fun enough?

Banff 20 yo 1976/1997 (56.4%, Cadenhead, Authentic Collection)

Banff 20 yo 1976/1997 (56.4%, Cadenhead, Authentic Collection) Five stars There was something Japanese to this collection, don’t you think? With this minimal cream label… Now I’ve tried a good handful of these 1976s by CAD, and quite loved them. All.  These bottles represent great opportunities to taste naked spirit from long-closed distilleries! 9yo Saint Magdalene ex-refill, anyone? Colour: white wine. Nose: the Highlands blowing into your face. Heather, sea air, barley, paraffin, some oil lost on the road by an old Land Rover, perhaps even a little mutton suet. Not sure about the mutton suet. Behind that, plenty of grapefruits. With water: there, old coins, old tools, mint tea, Barbour grease, gunflints… Mouth (neat): powerful, extremely well-chiselled (why have I mentioned Saint Magdalene? It does have something of Saint Magdalene), and both very leafy and very citrusy. Cherry leaves infused in lemon liqueur. In the background, very discreet touches of wasabi and mustard, which is very Banff. With water: exceptional. Opens up like a Lagavulin Bay oyster as soon as it’s seen a bottle of 16 years old. Grapefruit marmalade (the best marmalade), salty almonds, angelica, greengages… Now the wasabi disappeared. Finish: you bet, its back! A long sweet and mustardy finish, very precise. Comments: frankly, these are the bottles to buy at auctions. Long-closed distilleries, young to middle-aged, light colours. SGP:462 - 90 points.

Banff 1975/2013 (43.7%, Malts of Scotland, selected by Dram Brothers, bourbon barrel, cask #MoS 13056)

Banff 1975/2013 (43.7%, Malts of Scotland, selected by Dram Brothers, bourbon barrel, cask #MoS 13056) Five stars Colour: gold. Nose: a beehive-y one! And then there’s this cellary profile, with soot, old oils, concrete, gravel, old barrels, forgotten vegetables and fruits that did not rot, then some old embrocations, clay, an old bottle of mead that you brought back from Brittany twenty years ago, and even a little incense. Forgot to mention creamy milk chocolate – the one that’s made with milk, not dreadful palm oil. Glorious nose. Mouth: sweet mustard, there, this is Banff. And old liqueurs and spirits from you auntie’s bar, Bénédictine, mirabelle liqueur, Dantziger Goldwasser, and whatnot. You’ve got the whole 20th century in this bottle. Finish: perhaps not very long, but it’s got all honeys and herbal teas you could think of. And this salty/mustardy signature that’s so lovely. Comments: one to sip while in an old Bentley, John-Steed-style. No worries, Mrs. Peel is driving. SGP:562 - 91 points.

We said we’d have a 1974 as well, here it is…

Banff 1974/2003 (45%, Samaroli, 35th Anniversary, sherry wood, 360 bottles)

Banff 1974/2003 (45%, Samaroli, 35th Anniversary, sherry wood, 360 bottles) Five stars Sig. Samaroli must have felt nostalgic when he did this bottling, since he added this to the label: ‘Special Old Liqueur Sherry Wood Unblended Malt’. Fun indeed. Colour: pale white wine. You can’t do more refill than this. Nose: it’s an austere Banff, sooty and oily, rather very mineral, with an herbal side. A walk in the forest, with whiffs of moss and fern, perhaps a little horseradish, then some sooty old concrete, some iron, cut grass, and a little porridge. Rainwater. Mouth: amen. It is exceptional in its own Jansenist style. We’d have loved a little more power, but other than that, this is some perfect wine-malt, perhaps a little chenin blanc. We’re talking great Savennières or something, with plenty of sooty things, salted fresh walnuts, and of course this immaculate mustardy side. It’s the most mustardy of them all. Mustard on fresh walnuts, amazing flavours. Finish: pretty long – in fact it’s gaining power – and with an admirable lemon coming out. I told you, Savennières… It’s even got this flintiness that feels like smoke. Comments: it’s to be wondered if bottlers should keep using the word ‘sherry’ when it’s obviously third or fourth fill. Not that we shall complain, mind you, this is a great and important whisky, a style that strictly no one is making anymore. SGP:362 - 92 points.

Let’s start a Banff Appreciation page on Facebook, I’m sure we’ll manage to gather at least fifty enthusiasts! Now, I haven’t checked, perhaps there is one already…

(Cheers Diego, cheers Nicolas)

More tasting notes Check the index of all Banff I've tasted so far



Block Today: JAZZ BLUES. Performer: Eddy Louiss. Track: Bananas Garden. Please visit his website and buy his music...

March 27, 2016


Happy International Whisky Day!

Every year since 2008, International Whisk(e)y Day celebrates the birthday of the late Michael Jackson, eternal king of whisky writing, and the greatest spirit in the world. Raise a glass on March 27th and help fight Parkinson's Disease!

International Whisky Day



March 25, 2016


Macallan because we should

As a whisky blogger, you ought to taste some Macallan every once in a while. I suppose. Well, two of them will do...

Macallan 2006/2015 (43%, Gordon & MacPhail, Speymalt)

Macallan 2006/2015 (43%, Gordon & MacPhail, Speymalt) Three stars Colour: straw. Nose: very natural, extremely barleyish, malty, slightly yeasty, bready, with some porridge and muesli, then apples and a vanilla/cinnamon combo. A very, very malty young one. Mouth: a little weird, but that's not a bad thing. Unexpected notes of tinned sardines covered with custard and lemon juice (yup), then rather oranges, with some cinnamon and white pepper, plus a little barley syrup and sawdust. It's really 'funny'. Finish: medium, a little zestier, but always with this strange sardine-y side. A fun unorthodox Macallan with some character. Comments: this one's hard to put into a box. Worth trying, especially since the price is rather fair. SGP:341 - 80 points.

Macallan 'Rare Cask Black' (48%, OB, travel retail, +/-2015)

Macallan 'Rare Cask Black' (48%, OB, travel retail, +/-2015) Two stars A very expensive NAS, and plenty of marketing talk, but I couldn't find anything about 'how' they actually made this supposedly 'smoky' Macallan. A finishing in ex-peater wood? A smokier than usual distillate? Or simply casks that tasted a little smokier than usual to the blender(s)? War-time peaty distillate (I'm joking)? Colour: dark amber. Nose: rather metallic. Copper coins and old tin box, then gravel and potpourri, then dried figs and, indeed, a little peat smoke. It reminds me a little of Highland Park 12 years old, with this mild sherriness. There's some marzipan too, mouthwash... I like HP 12 better! Mouth: plenty of burnt oak, which makes it dissonant and, in my opinion, unpleasant. Bitter ashes, curry, bitter oranges, mustard, sawdust... Really difficult. Tends to gather its thoughts but it takes a lot of time to do that. Notes of blood oranges. Finish: long and curiously herbal and bitter. And acrid. A lot of raisiny oak in the aftertaste. Comments: not really for me. It may be 'very rare', but I don't think that's what's important. A very shaky one if you ask me. SGP:462 - 76 points.

More tasting notes Check the index of all Macallan I've tasted so far



Block Today: BLUES. Performer: Michael Burks. Track: I hope he's worth my pain. Please visit his website and buy his music...

March 24, 2016


Ardbeg Dark cove and worthy opponents

Well friends, it is this time of the year again. Days get longer, swallows are back, forsythias are in bloom, we are seeing the first white asparagus from Provence, people are laughing at the bistrots’ terraces, honeybees are flying around gathering pollens and nectars, and there’s the new Ardbeg. I know, that was brutal, so as a sort of apology, let’s taste it (plus other new ones, to remain fair)…

Ardbeg  ‘Dark cove’ (55%, OB, Committee release, 2016)

Ardbeg  ‘Dark cove’ (55%, OB, Committee release, 2016) Four stars and a halfThe label tells us that ‘its heart has been matured in dark sherry casks’. Which doesn’t mean much, really, or only that a part of it was matured (proportions? for how long?) in sherry that probably wasn’t fino or manzanilla. It’s also said, on the label, that it’s the darkest Ardbeg ever. Highly unlikely if you ask me, given the various fantastic dark-oloroso-ed Ardbegs the owners have had in the past. So, the label being partly wrong, doesn’t that make this wee bottle kind of collectable? Despite the fact that it’s yet another NAS? Ach… Colour: gold. Nothing dark, really, we’ve known hundreds of Ardbegs that were darker, both officials and indies.

Nose: hold on, cancel any derision or affectionate mockeries, there’s something clearly ‘old Ardbeg’ to this. Really. This very particular creosote-y thing, these soy-saucy touches, this fattish, tar-like medicinal side that’s so different from Laphroaig’s, this natural rubber diluted in brine, the turpentine, the walnuts (the sherry)… Plus, above all, very little of the dullish new-oakiness that’s polluting so many modern malts. Perhaps a little caraway, ginger, and juniper, but that’s all. So far, so perfect. With water: some kind of salted lapsang souchong into which you would have thrown cloves. Mouth (neat): phew, there was a little ‘obvious’ oak in the beginning of the arrival (varnish plus ginger and caraway), and I may like the nose better, but this is frankly very fine, appropriately thickish, cough-syrupy (oh my), with some acidic lemon as well, some smoked ham, perhaps a wee bit of bresaola to please our Italian friends, some salt, and some bitter oranges. Salty soy sauce with some tar liqueur. With water: it takes water well, becoming even peatier, even if more oils from the wood tend to come out as well. A tannicity. Finish: extremely long, and spicier. More cloves, ginger, cumin… Comments: it’s maybe more the oak than the wine that’s been playing the largest part here. I find this Dark cove more to my liking than last year’s… ach, what was the name again? - but I do prefer Uigeadail in this ‘direction’. But it’s excellent indeed. SGP:468 - 88 points.


Ardbeg 22 yo 1993/2016 (55.3%, Cadenhead, Single Cask) Five stars Out in early April but probably sold out even before it was distilled. Sorry, no picture of the bottle yet. I've put a painting by William Cadenhead (1934-2005) instead, who, as I just found out, was a talented, albeit somewhat academic Scottish painter. No, I doubt there are any relations. Colour: dark gold. A shade darker than the Dark cove. Nose: ho-ho-ho, this is gonna be interesting. There are many similarities, and there are differences. Similarities, the very Ardbeggian profile, wit this creosote, mercurochrome, and turpentine. Differences, this is more complex, without any straight oaky tones (you can’t beat age, really, you can’t), and with more citrus and eucalyptus. See, we managed to keep this short. So far. With water: hello wet dogs and cows under the rain! And horse saddles, hay, dried kelp, barley, mushrooms, saltpetre, soot, grass smoke (I mean, real grass)…

Mouth (neat): once again, similarities and differences. The main difference being that, once again, this has more ‘time’ and less ‘oak’ – but there is some oak (tea tannins). Bergamots abound, and so do the Dutch’s preferred fruit, kumquats. Other than that, there’s some smoked vanilla cake (hey?), some liquorice, some cough medicine, some tar drops, some lemon juice, and just this feeling of ‘the distillery’. Always great as long as it’s not Dumbarton Distillery. With water: absolutely perfect. There’s something that reminds me of the 1990 'Airigh Nam Beist', I don’t quite know what that is. Finish: long, with this wonderful freshness that wasn’t quite to be found in the new Dark cove. A clear plus in my book. Only the aftertaste is a wee tad bitterish and tannic, perhaps. Perhaps. Bitter almonds. Comments: very high standards. SGP:558 - 91 points.

PS: that will make up for a certain newish Cradle Mountain by Cadenhead’s that’s been, well… You’ll see when I publish my notes (I’m still trying to recover)… But meanwhile, let’s have a last newish Ardbeg…

Ardbeg 1998/2015 (58.4%, Malts of Scotland, for Whisky & Co and Whisky Antique, cask #MoS 15009, 185 bottles)

Ardbeg 1998/2015 (58.4%, Malts of Scotland, for Whisky & Co and Whisky Antique, cask #MoS 15009, 185 bottles) Four stars and a half The label wouldn’t tell, but it could be one of those sherry hogsheads, let’s see… Colour: gold. Nose: if it’s sherry it’s refill. First time I’m trying an Ardbeg that starts like an Auchentoshan, with this very specific combination of wood varnish and bubblegum. Really. And you’ll even find marshmallows and various ‘things’ by our friends at Haribo’s, while we’re probably admiring the slowest peat in the West. A very discreet one for sure. Was it a Kildalton sequel or something? Or did ‘that guy’ mistakenly push the Glen Moray button again? Now it’s very nice, very clean and fresh, it’s just, well, let’s call it Lowlandy. Yeah, St. Magdalene was a Lowlander too.

With water: one of the most delicate middle-aged recent Ardbegs I’ve nosed. Amaretti, marzipan, white chocolate, earl grey, a touch of hay, and only the smoke from one menthol cigarette. Mouth (neat): it’s wonderful, but once again, it starts almost unpeated, and no, there isn’t any ‘sudden peat blast’ occurring. It’s just a gentle progression, from sweet marzipan, pineapples, and peaches to acrid grass smoke and seawater. Shall we call it ‘a chromatic Ardbeg’? With water: same feelings. It’s even kind of light, but it’s also very elegant. More sea thing. Iodine. Finish: medium, with rather more citrus. Bitterer and grassier aftertaste… and there, a peat blast! The slowest peat in the West indeed. Also apple peelings, plus a limy side. Comments: careful with water, do not add more than a few drops. But anyway, I found it excellent, albeit quite intriguing. Not that easy to handle and tame. SGP:556 - 88 points.

(with thanks to Fab Fabien)

More tasting notes Check the index of all Ardbeg I've tasted so far



Block Today: JAZZ. Performer: Dan Wall. Track: The Electric Ballroom. Please buy his music...

March 23, 2016


An Arran run

No, I’m not too proud about that headline. Anyway, the new Arran 18 is out since one or two weeks, time to try it. And then we’ll hopefully find some proper sparring partners… (this session is for Harold Currie and for all our Belgian friends)

Arran 18 yo (46%, OB, 2016)

Arran 18 yo (46%, OB, 2016) Four starsLast’s year’s 18 was a limited release, which I found nice but a little too sherried for the distillate’s clean, bright profile. This one’s the brand new, core-range bottling. Colour: gold. Nose: starts with many beers, from lagers to ales, before it becomes rather more mineral. Wet limestone, freshly squeezed orange juice, cider apples, some green tea, only a touch of vanilla, greengages, gooseberries… It’s really a bright orchardy Arran, rather au naturel as far as I can tell. Also notes of leaves and ‘young’ bark. Mouth: is it like what happens with many white wines, the minerality (and/or salinity) comes out after quite a few years of maturing. Indeed, beyond the rather creamy vanilla and tinned peaches, and beyond the few sultanas from the soft sherry, I’m finding a chalkiness that’s really to my liking. No notes of buds/stems/rubber this time, and little leafy sherry. Touches of lemon and grapefruit as well, all for the better. Finish: medium, clean and fresh, rather on lemon curd, tarte au citron, sweet vanilla, and overripe apples… Drops of Fanta. Comments: just excellent and much more to my liking than last year’s limited batch. SGP:551 - 86 points.

I guess another 18 would make sense…

Arran 18 yo 1996/2015 (50.5%, The Single Malts of Scotland, puncheon, cask #896928, 624 bottles) Arran 18 yo 1996/2015 (50.5%, The Single Malts of Scotland, puncheon, cask #896928, 624 bottles)

Arran 18 yo 1996/2015 (50.5%, The Single Malts of Scotland, puncheon, cask #896928, 624 bottles) Four stars I guess it was a sherry puncheon. Colour: dark gold. Nose: no big sherry, but what’s there is appropriately tobacco-ish and leafy/leathery. Funnily enough, there’s the same kind of minerality as in the official 18 in the background. Other than that, we have walnuts in all their forms, as cake, as wine, au naturel, in a chicken soup… No, not in a chicken soup. With water: we recreated the OB! Mouth (neat): oh excellent! There are obvious similarities with the official, with the same beautifully zesty and even tart profile that dominates the sherry. Lemon curd again, pink grapefruits… With water: we recreated the OB again! Finish: perfect, with a little more bitter oranges this time. Balance is perfect. Comments: one more point for the extra-strength. Well deserved! SGP:551 - 87 points.

Arran 'Batch 4' (52%, That Boutique-y Whisky Company, 1,270 bottles, 2014)

Arran 'Batch 4' (52%, That Boutique-y Whisky Company, 1,270 bottles, 2014) Three stars and a half Another mysterious NAS combo by Master of Malt, bearing a rather Tintinesque label. Colour: straw. Nose: it’s grassier, more austere, rougher, and possibly younger Arran. Lemon juice, gin, beer, and sharp white wine (like they make in England, woo-hoo!) With water: some almonds. It’s simple, but balance has been achieved. Very pleasant. Mouth (neat): very grassy and zesty. Even more English white wine, with drops of sugar syrup. Some limoncello too. It’s a very sharp and ‘pointed’ Arran. With water: gets rounder. Artisan cider, grass, green apples, mandarins, barley. Un unexpected salty touch. Finish: medium, clean. Some rounder grassiness. Comments: not much to say – and certainly nothing bad. So, it’s very good. SGP:451 - 84 points.

More tasting notes Check the index of all Arran I've tasted so far



Block Today: JAZZ. Performer: Michael Brecker. Track: Modus Operandi. Please visit his website and buy his music...

March 22, 2016


Wacky Octomores, two of them

This won't be just about maximum peat, it's going to be about strange woods. Because while very active casks will often work a treat with 'shy' distillates, it's a whole different story when the spirit's shock-full of idiosyncrasies (omg)...

Octomore 7 yo 2008/2016 '07.4' (61.2%, OB, virgin oak, 12,000 bottles)

Octomore 7 yo 2008/2016 '07.4' (61.2%, OB, virgin oak, 12,000 bottles) Two stars 167 ppm smoke in the barley, and some virgin French oak from Allier - albeit not entirely, apparently. It's too complicated. Now what could go wrong? Colour: amber. Virgin oak indeed. Nose: it's the first Octomore that's so entirely 'craft', and indeed you could think this was made in Texas or in California. Starts with a very spicy oak, with plenty of ginger, green pepper, and caraway, and gets then progressively smoky, in a surprisingly smooth way. Fumes, new tyres, bitter oranges, and really a lot of myrtle. Didn't the oak overpower the bombastic peat? The jury's still out. With water: new planks, ginger, curry, cinnamon, leaven, bread dough, rubber. Mouth (neat): creamy and extremely oaky. Curry and honey coated fried bacon, cinnamon mints, salty fudge, rubber... Really not too sure. With water: no, the oak bites you. I think the Americans do it better. Finish: long, gingery, oddly sweet. Cheap lapsang souchong. Comments: lacks definition and 'a sense of the place' as they now say in the industry. So many Octomores have been much better in my book! Well, all of them - not to mention the Port Charlottes. I wouldn't swap one bottle of 7.3 (WF 91) for ten cases of this rather wacky 7.4. Quick, 7.5... SGP:467 - 70 points.

Wacky? How about Sauternes?

Octomore 6 yo 2007/2014 (64%, Rest and be Thankful Whisky Co., Sauternes, cask # R0000016746, 303 bottles)

Octomore 6 yo 2007/2014 (64%, Rest and be Thankful Whisky Co., Sauternes, cask # R0000016746, 303 bottles) Four starsThey had an excellent ex-bourbon around the same time (WF 90). Colour: gold. Nose: fudge, more fudge, and even more fudge, and a rather moderate smokiness that would involve smoked almonds, bitter oranges, and quite some hay. No bomb so far, and a rather well-defined profile. Which is surprising. With water: farmyard, a pile of old tyres, some hay, and a beach at low tide. Kelp, a few crabs, shrimps, all that...  Mouth (neat): you know what, I cannot not think of some Breton Kornog matured in Sauternes wood. Which means that I like this arrival quite a lot. No dissonances this time, and a peat/sweetness combo that works, with a zesty/fizzy side that's rather summery. But will it swim? With water: it does. The whole's relatively simple, but it works. Salted and smoked almonds, some paraffin, some putty. Finish: long, rather on smoked almonds and marzipan. Comments: doesn't feel like a total peat bomb. Very good, if not totally stellar in my opinion. Like the cleaner, sharper ones even better (ex-bourbon!) but it does, indeed, destroy the strange new official 7.4. SGP:568 - 86 points.

More tasting notes Check the index of all Octomore I've tasted so far


Pete McPeat and Jack Washback




Block Today: JAZZ. Performer: Marc Cary. Track: Beehive. Please visit his website and buy his music...

March 21, 2016


A bag of whiskies from
the rest of the world

… As the Scots used to say. Well, things have changed, and there are other nations that are or became more prominent, but we’ll avoid them, and focus on ‘smaller’ whisky countries. And we’ll do that ‘at random’…

Three Ships 10 yo 2005/2015 (46.2%, OB, South-Africa, PX finish, 800 bottles)

Three Ships 10 yo 2005/2015 (46.2%, OB, South-Africa, PX finish, 800 bottles) Three stars and a half From the James Sedgwick Distillery in Wellington, this new baby that was first matured in bourbon wood, then finished for 14 months in a PX cask. Probably a butt, according to the outturn. Colour: amber with reddish hues. Nose: pencil shavings, peonies, leather, gunpowder, raisins, oranges, ginger. And then damp earth, old wine barrels, balms, and fresh mushrooms. It’s clearly a 2-step malt, not quite a movie yet, but there is some action going on. Mouth: I believe I’m getting more and more into these ‘foreign’ styles, and am less and less looking for some Scotchness when trying these exotic babies. For example, this one has ‘too much’ gingery oak, and ‘too many’ bready and spicy notes. And a distillate that’s probably not prominent enough. And yet, this works a treat, because balance is achieved, and because of these touches of pineapples and raisins that I find pleasantly exotic. I find plums, also. Finish: long, quite fat, sweet and gingery, and good. Sour fruits. Only the aftertaste is a little disturbing, with some extreme pepper and even chilli. Which kind of oak was it? Comments: I remember the first Three Ships that I had tried more than ten years ago. There’s nothing more exciting than seeing mankind make such huge progress (that was so lame and unnecessary, S.!) SGP:561 - 84 points.

Armorik 7 yo 2008/2015 'Maitre de Chai' (46%, OB, France, casks #3325-3322, 1700 bottles)

Armorik 7 yo 2008/2015 'Maitre de Chai' (46%, OB, France, casks #3325-3322, 1700 bottles) Three stars and a half We had an earlier Maitre de Chai by Warenghem last year, and found it good. Maitre de Chai means Cellar Master, more or less. Colour: gold. Nose: once again, it is a spirit that’s not very big, matured in some wood that’s quite talkative. It’s a trend we’re seeing in Scotland too – indeed they’re aiming for making bourbon – kind of - in Scotland, haven’t you noticed? – but this time, it was sweet, easy, good-quality wood. And that translated into some very pleasant notes of brioche, shortbread, custard, overripe apples, and perhaps sweet beer, IPA-style. Sweet IPA, of course. Mouth: there isn’t much to say against this. Once again, the distillate’s probably a little shy, but indeed they used top-quality oak. Top quality oak, in my book, is oak that does not reek of coconut and vanilla! Lactones, b***y lactones. So chocolate, honey, maple syrup, butterscotch, and apple compote. Only the background is maybe a notch tannic and white-peppery. Finish: medium, fruity, pastry-like, easy. Comments: one sexy French malt, smartly made. It’s much lighter and easier than the South-African, but qualities and even profiles are kind of similar. Smart. SGP:561 - 84 points.

English Whisky Co. 7 yo 2007/2015 (63.4%, Blackadder, Raw Cask, Moscatel cask, cask #789, 248 bottles)

English Whisky Co. 7 yo 2007/2015 (63.4%, Blackadder, Raw Cask, Moscatel cask, cask #789, 248 bottles) Plain and utter madness, this. Moscatel! Even Caol Ila did succumb when they finished it in Moscatel… Colour: gold. Nose: sit down, calm down, take your time… Because this just f***g burns! Yeast, leaven, new sneakers, old barrels, porridge (yesterday’s)… Not too sure, really… With water: I guess this is what’ you’d get, should you distil pineapples in a column still. Mouth (neat): new make. With water: I really don’t know. An UFS (Unidentified Flying Spirit). Extra-coarse, even when at +/-40% vol. Finish: not too sure. Apple juice? Cherry juice? Comments: Iwo Jima was a piece of cake compared to this (with heartfelt apologies to our most distinguished American friends). We all know they like to joke at Blackadder’s, but this could be lethal. They had a Sauternes version as well, which I liked much better. Now, have fun, buy a bottle, and invite your mother-in-law… Because, yes it’s sweet! SGP:651 - 60 points (for the fun of it).

Okay, I’m owing one to Blackadder. I know this one doesn’t fit this session, but you won’t expose me to the Scotch Whisky Association, will you?...

Peat Reek (60.5%, Blackadder, Raw Cask, hogshead, cask ref #PR2015-1, 281 bottles, 2015)

Peat Reek (60.5%, Blackadder, Raw Cask, hogshead, cask ref #PR2015-1, 281 bottles, 2015) Four stars and a half With a nice Malt Maniacs Awards medal on the label! It’s true that this baby did very well when blind… Colour: white wine. The whitest Sauvignon blanc. Nose: super-clean, extra-bright, mega-smoky, and deliciously barleyish. Oh, and powerful, some Vorsicht to be had… With water (neat): very kilny. Mouth (neat): blend pineapple and grapefruit juices, smoke, add almond oil, add salt. A ta santé! With water: amazing zing (come on, S.!) Ultra-chiselled peat, fish oil, and lemon juice. Finish: yes, it’ll end eventually (S., you lazy b…). Comments: it’s crystal. Unbreakable crystal. We’re in mezcal or clairin territories. And indeed age doesn’t matter when you’ve got this kind of distillate. But what’s the age again? ;-) SGP:347 - 88 points.

Good, Blackadder, would you please ring the guys in the black Mercedes in front of the house, and tell them we’re friends again?...

Fary Lochan 4 yo 2011/2015 'Fary Forest Batch 01' (48.4%, OB, Danemark)

Fary Lochan 4 yo 2011/2015 'Fary Forest Batch 01' (48.4%, OB, Danemark) Three stars Colour: straw. Nose: I like this nose, for it’s so close to the raw materials. It is clearly cerealy (oh no, not yet again, S.!) with only a little oak. In other words, there are breads, no vanilla, no coconut, no corn syrup, and no pears. Mouth: stranger, but most interesting. Imagine you’d crush tinned sardines, and mix them with barley wine. There’s a most engaging – and amusing – coastalness to this. In a way, it’s deviant, but the main model is getting worn-out anyway. Lets go for sardines! Finish: perhaps a little rounder. Salted bread with bits of dried fruits inside. Which goes very well with foie gras, by the way. Comments: seriously, I’d bet this one would go well with foie gras! Yeah, or tinned sardines. Some very unorthodox whisky, but I totally love the fun in it. SGP:462 - 80 points.

Overeem ‘Port Cask Matured’ (60%, OB, Old Hobart Distillery, Tasmania, cask #OHD-029, +/-2015)

Overeem ‘Port Cask Matured’ (60%, OB, Old Hobart Distillery, Tasmania, cask #OHD-029, +/-2015) Four stars Colour: salmony/apricoty. Nose: but… isn’t this rum? It’s really funny how some sweet Port has added layers of, well, fruity sweetness to a meaty and sooty malt spirit. This seems to work a treat, but this strength might kill your nostrils, so just to be on the safe side… With water: some copper, some smoked ham, some liquorice, some menthol, and some heavy moist bread, pumpernickel-style. A perfect nose. Mouth (neat): very strong, but excellent. I’m finding a lot of fried bacon, but we’ll leave this at that until… With water: indeed, bacon, blackcurrant jam (I guess that’s the Port speaking out), a tarry smokiness, some blood oranges, and then a spicy breadiness. Pepper for sure. Finish: long, with a feeling of fortified mulled wine. And that works. The aftertaste is a little leafier, perhaps is it a little ‘too much’ in that respect. Comments: a spectacular little beast, this. Very well made, as expected. Loved the bacon! SGP:462 - 86 points.

Blackadder’s English whisky has intrigued me, let’s try that again…

English Whisky Co. ‘Classic’ (53.4%, OB, The Whisky Exchange, 270 bottles)

English Whisky Co. ‘Classic’ (53.4%, OB, The Whisky Exchange, 270 bottles) Two stars They had a peated one as well, I thought it was kind of okay(ish) (WF 77). Colour: straw. Nose: spirity and vanilla-ed. A little varnish and bubblegum too. Other than that, not a lot. With water: young, sweet, grainy. Whiffs of vase water and touches of raw barley - which is nicer. Mouth (neat): raw, new-maky, sweet. Tinned pineapples? I don’t think this is very mature, is it? With water: rather better. Elderberries, apples, barley syrup. Thin body. Finish: rather short and a tad sugary. Comments: I’m a bit at a loss. It’s fairly fair malt spirit, but I’m sorry, in the grand scheme of whisky things, I’m not sure it brings much to the table. Especially when you see what’s coming out of several new distilleries everywhere in the world. Such as, yes, Australia/Tasmania, or America, or India… Or, or, or… But I'll say it again, just a personal opinion. SGP:541 - 75 points.



Tovuz 10 yo (40%, OB, Azerbaijan, +/-2015) A wee bottle that I just found at a tourism and travel exhibition here in Alsace. Rather than explain exactly what this is, or could be, I’d advise you to read Billy’s excellent – as usual – piece about it. Colour: caramel. Nose: caramel indeed, with also notes of molasses and hints of wood alcohol. A touch of tar as well, which reminds me of some balsam liqueurs they also make in the region. As Billy already noticed, this baby’s much closer to molasses-based rum than to whisky. Mouth: very sweet, on maple syrup, sweet rum indeed, bitter caramel, liquorice allsorts, raisins, muscatel, Kahlua… I find it kind of drinkable, just not very whisky. Finish: medium, mainly on caramel. Comments: not too bad! We’ve seen much worse on the lower shelves of our western supermarkets. SGP:720 - 50 points.



Block Today: BLUES. Performer: Freddie Roulette king of lap steel guitar. Track: Sleepwalk. Please buy his music...

March 18, 2016


Eight Irish, for the better or…

Isn’t it amazing that while the owners have been doing a good job in recent years, it’s the indies, especially some Germans, that managed to push Irish whisky (yeah, whiskey) nearer to, or even above the 90-mark? Or is it just me? But we’ll have some rather young ones today, so nothing is totally secure, as they say in scuba diving… (sorry, was meant to post all this on St Patrick Day).

Glendalough 7 yo (46%, OB, Irish, single malt, bourbon barrel, +/-2015)

Glendalough 7 yo (46%, OB, Irish, single malt, bourbon barrel, +/-2015) Three stars This is sourced double-distilled malt whisky – probably ex-Cooley – by the new Glendalough Distillery. Good idea to have some whisky to sell when you’re just starting. Colour: gold. Nose: nice! Certainly Irish, with this very peculiar blend of ripe bananas, copper, shoe polish, and overripe apples. The whole’s clean, not immature at all, and nicely balanced, not over-fruity, not too dry. Mouth: it may be a tad rough now, but apples, bananas and guavas come in abundance. It’s also funny that while this is double-distilled single malt, it’s got something Midletonian, and certainly ‘pot still’. Perhaps these notes of metal (copper again) and herbal teas (rosehip for sure). I find it really good. Finish: rather long, with much more vanilla, and a bitterer aftertaste (cinnamon and green tea). Comments: very very fine. Curious to see if the distillery’s own make will be in the same cluster when mature. SGP:641 - 81 points.

Glendalough 13 yo (46%, OB, Irish, single malt, bourbon barrel, +/-2015)

Glendalough 13 yo (46%, OB, Irish, single malt, bourbon barrel, +/-2015) Three stars and a halfColour: gold. Nose: this one’s grassier and a notch smokier at first nosing, with less bursting fruits, and more teas, a floral side (honeysuckle), and whiffs of ‘fern and broken branches under the rain’. Mouth: more in the vein of the 7, but with more apple peelings, definitely guavas, papayas as well, then a feeling of cedar wood and cinnamon. Some green melon, a touch of white pepper and cinnamon, and then more herbal teas. Chinese gunpowder (the tea). Finish: rather long, leafier and more herbal than other Irish. A little green oak, perhaps, and more green pepper in the aftertaste. Comments: another one that I’m finding very good, very ‘modern Irish’, but with less of the extravagant fruitiness that can be found elsewhere. SGP:551 - 83 points.

Glendalough ‘Poitin Sherry Cask Finish’ (40%, OB, Irish, +/-2016)

Glendalough ‘Poitin Sherry Cask Finish’ (40%, OB, Irish, +/-2016) Three stars and a half This, I believe, is Glendalough’s own make. The idea of a finishing on some white spirit is a little strange but after all, I think Glenglassaugh already did that. Not sure they’ve been using potatoes as well as grains for this one, as was traditional in Ireland. Colour: bronze gold. Nose: oh no, this works. It’s got some rye character, plenty of bread of various sorts, and then rather caraway and a kind of spicy earthiness that works very well. Feels ‘American craft’ if you ask me. Mouth: we’re between Scandinavian aquavit and rye whisky as well, the only part that troubles me a bit is this rather huge chocolaty and raisiny side, probably from the sherry cask. But the whole does work a treat. Finish: medium, on chocolate and soft curry. Comments: a good surprise. As usual, a higher strength would have been welcome, but this sure is a very good baby whisky. I think I like it just as much as the sourced 13 yo, to tell you the truth. SGP:452 - 83 points.

Glendalough ‘Mountain Strength Poitin’ (60%, OB, Irish, +/-2016)

Glendalough ‘Mountain Strength Poitin’ (60%, OB, Irish, +/-2016) Two starsPlease fasten your seatbelts… Colour: white. Nose: yeah! A raw, pearish, grassy, and rooty white distillate. I can’t find any potatoes, but I do seem to find… wait, beetroots? Celeriac? With water: plain new make, as you will find in most Scottish distilleries as well. Mouth (neat): it is, of course, new make. Raw, spirity, alcohol-sweet, with the same touches of pears and beetroots as in the nose. As they say in the old French movie Les Tontons Flingueurs (English: Crooks in Clover, also known as Monsieur Gangster), ‘I used to know a Polish girl that used to take this for breakfast’. Ha! With water: this is almost good. Earthy apples and pears plus a good deal of saccharin. Finish: medium, on the same sugary flavours. Comments: a bottle to have in your bar, to show to your friends that whisky doesn’t run out of the still golden.  SGP:520 - 75 points (yeah, more or less).

Single Irish Malt 13 yo (46%, William Cadenhead, +/-2016)

Single Irish Malt 13 yo (46%, William Cadenhead, +/-2016) Three stars and a half Colour: white wine. Nose: do you like bubblegum? Custard? Haribo’s maddest sweets? Green tea? Patchouli? Hay? This is for you then. Mouth: we’re really not far from Glendalough’s 13 years old. Grasses, melons, green tea, vanilla, perhaps a little tangerine, pineapple… Finish: medium, fruity, fresh, always a notch ‘Haribo’. Comments: those notes were short, I have to apologise for that. It’s just that this little Irish was simply very good and very easy. Goes down well. Not to sip while watching TV, or you’ll kill one full bottle before the end of the film. Two if it’s Haneke. SGP:551 - 83 points.

Irish Single Malt 2001/2016 (48.3%, Maltbarn, bourbon, 167 bottles)

Irish Single Malt 2001/2016 (48.3%, Maltbarn, bourbon, 167 bottles) Four stars Colour: straw. Nose: it’s one of the fruitier ones, it seems. A Cuban breakfast (oh come on), with papayas, pineapples, and guavas. No rum, no cigars. A quite superb soft spiciness in the background, with some cinnamon, caraway, and aniseed. The aniseed tends to come to the front, giving it a slight pastis-y side. Does that mean that this comes from Pernod-Ricard’s Midleton Distillery? I think not… Mouth: very good, easy, sweet, slightly honeyed, with more tropical fruits and a faint sour side that goes well here. Cider apples? Finish: medium, grassier. Apple peel, banana skin… Some white pepper in the aftertaste. Comments: an excellent middle-aged Irish. Perhaps not as wham-bam as the ones from the late 1980s or early 1990s, but we’re getting there. SGP:651 - 85 points.

Teeling 13 yo 2002/2015 (54.2%, Single Cask Collection, bourbon hogshead, cask #8310, 271 bottles)

Teeling 13 yo 2002/2015 (54.2%, Single Cask Collection, bourbon hogshead, cask #8310, 271 bottles) Four starsColour: straw. Nose: akin to the Maltbarn. Perhaps a notch more on western orchard fruits. Apples, pears, gooseberries, greengages… Some lightish acacia honey as well – from Hungary, they have the best. No wonder this bottler is Austrian. With water: very clean. Fresh fruity and floral butter from the Swiss Alps (now wonder the bottler is…), syrups, honeys… Mouth (neat): a rounded, ueber-fruity Irish, full of honey, maple syrup, papayas, pears, melons, and perhaps bananas. But the pears tend to take the lead. So does vanilla. With water: it’s the grass that comes out, together with marshmallows and fresh pineapple. Finish: medium, sweet, fruity, easy. Some bitterer grass in the aftertaste. Comments: same high quality as the 2001 by Maltbarn, same score. You got to be coherent in life, every now and then. SGP:651 - 85 points.

Irish Single Malt Whisky 16 yo 1999/2015 (57.3%, Chapter 7, rum cask, cask #5409)

Irish Single Malt Whisky 16 yo 1999/2015 (57.3%, Chapter 7, rum cask, cask #5409) Four stars and a half This one was aged in a rum cask, not just finished. And I’ll say it again, I love these labels that are not overdone. This is whisky, it’s not the Follies Bergères or the Tropicana, and Mucha is dead and buried! Colour: pale gold. Nose: something must have happened in 2000 in Ireland. Indeed, this is rather more refined, elegant, and subtle than all the others. Superb notes of sunflower oil, light honeys, agave and cane syrups, tangerines, mangos, dandelions, pollen… The others were lovely, this is superb. With water:  more of the lovely same. The rum is hard to detect – maybe the cane syrup? Mouth (neat): yess, grapefruits to put it straight, then papayas, pineapples, mangos, passion fruits… Then a touch of Pinot Gris… It’s well in the style of the 1988-1992s. With water: even more so, even if a funny spicy oak kicks in. Cumin, perhaps, cloves, cardamom, ‘greener things’… Finish: medium, and definitely grassier, spicier, and greener. Reminds me of that trendy grass juice we used to drink in Germany in the 1980s… Oh forget. The aftertaste is sweeter again, though. White pineapples? Comments: not totally 90-material in my book – that’s rather 1988-1992 indeed – but we’re close. SGP:651 - 88 points.

Many more Irish soon on WF!



Block Today: BLUES. Performer: Selwyn Birchwood. Track: Hoodoo Stew. Please visit his website and buy his music...

March 17, 2016


Contrasting Tomatins, a bright idea

If there’s one brand – excuse me, one distillery - that conquered the hearts of many whisky enthusiasts lately, it’s well Tomatin. They’re also willing to educate drinkers, apparently, for example with new bottle kits that showcase the differences between various kinds of casks and maturations. Very smart! Let’s have two of them today, and then see if we find other Tomatins…

Tomatin 'Contrast Bourbon Matured' (46%, OB, 5,400 bottles, 2016)

Tomatin 'Contrast Bourbon Matured' (46%, OB, 5,400 bottles, 2016) Four stars Ha-ha! The labels smartly states the various vintages that have been used, that is to say 1973, 1977, 1988, 1991, 2002 and 2006. A genuine multi-vintage bottling, like J.M do in rhum agricole. I think that would be even better with the proportions, having said that, or we’d always ‘feel’ that there’s much more 2006 than 1973. Or that there are only drops of 1973. But anyway, lets taste it… Colour: straw. Nose: fresh and crystalline, with pears, oranges, and pineapples on a bed of cut grass and a moderate vanillaness. Gooseberries. Love this purity, very well done so far. Mouth: indeed. Rather apples than pears this time, some angelica, more gooseberries, peaches, touches of pineapples again, and just drops of lemon juice. Frankly, this tastes pretty young, but it’s rather immaculate. I cannot not think of some dry chenin blanc from the Loire Valley. Good body, perfect strength. Finish: medium, not exactly zesty, but pure and fresh. Same kinds of fruits, with a grassier signature. Comments: oh this is smart! It’s going to be a must when temperatures rise, in a few weeks. SGP:551 - 87 points.

Tomatin 'Contrast Sherry Matured' (46%, OB, 5,400 bottles, 2016)

Tomatin 'Contrast Sherry Matured' (46%, OB, 5,400 bottles, 2016) Four stars and a half And this is the sherry version. Quite funnily, they’ve used the very same vintages as with the BB version. Colour: gold. Nose: not first fill. It’s very nice, but it hasn’t got the brightness of the bourbon. Having said that it’s quite subtle, with some tobacco and autumn leaves, and rather more overripe apples instead of fresh bright fruits. Like the whiffs of freshly brewed coffee that rise to our nostrils after a few minutes, as well as the obligatory walnuts. It catches up with the lovely bourbon! Mouth: … and overtakes it, thanks to a finer, more complex profile that hasn’t lost any of its fruity brightness. Dates, tobacco, grapefruits, apples, dried pears, dried bananas, a touch of leather, walnut wine… This is very excellent! Finish: medium to long – a little longer than that of the BB – with a perfect tobacco-ish and walnutty profile. Stays very clean. Comments: it’s the story of the tortoise and the hare. The sherry was a little less ‘immediate’, but it won eventually. By a thin margin! Anyway, what a great idea to have done this series! SGP:551 - 88 points.

PS: the excellent people at Tomatin’s have advised me to ‘blend’ both versions and to check the results. Quite bizarrely, I got smoke! And earth/mushroom, imagine. In fact, that worked a treat – am I not good? ;-)
But one question remains, where have the tropical fruits gone? It’s the same situation as with Benriach, or perhaps Bowmore or Laphroaig, these spirits used to be very ‘tropical’ until the mid to late 1970s, and then they lost their mangos and passion fruits. Why? But let’s check if an older Tomatin was well tropical, and we’re done.

Tomatin 34 yo 1976/2011 (46%, Mo Òr Collection, sherry butt, cask #4, 954 bottles)

Tomatin 34 yo 1976/2011 (46%, Mo Òr Collection, sherry butt, cask #4, 954 bottles) Five stars The outturn seems huge, but those were 50cls at 46% vol. and it was a butt. Colour: dark gold. Nose: tropical? You bet! This is ridden with ripe bananas, mangos, maracuja, and papayas. The sherry’s there, but it hasn’t got a lot to say in front of this tropical extravaganza. Raisins, perhaps? The whole’s perfect, and much less vulgar than you would think given the ueber-fruity profile. Mouth: a fruity bomb, and everything’s perfect. Multi-vitamin fruit juice, blood oranges, mango cream, cassata, white chocolate, and a wee bit of dried coconut. Perhaps a few sultanas too? Truly excellent, it would have just been even more ‘hyper-top-notch’ at a higher strength. Finish: medium, on pure tropical fruits with a little honey. Comments: high class, with sometimes something of Lochside. Flipside, these wonderful whiskies are so easy to drink that you need to use a cork locker. SGP:741 - 91 points.

More tasting notes Check the index of all Tomatin I've tasted so far



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March 16, 2016


The Benriach works, part two

We’ll go wild today. No order, no logic, no ranking, only Benriachs as they come…

Benriach 18 yo 1996/2014 (54.4%, OB, for Asia Palate Association, PX Sherry Puncheon, cask #4521, 717 bottles)

Benriach 18 yo 1996/2014 (54.4%, OB, for Asia Palate Association, PX Sherry Puncheon, cask #4521, 717 bottles) Five stars Picture indicative. One of these finishings they do so well at Benriach/Glendronach, although I usually like their olorosos better. This one did wonders at the MM Awards last year. Colour: dark amber. Nose: cigars and peonies, then blood oranges and earth. It’s not too raisiny, great news. Notes of very old Port, and Banyuls. That’s the PX speaking out. With water: wonderful earth, damp old barrels forgotten in a corner, soy sauce, lovage, ‘wild’ cigars… This is perfect. Mouth (neat): very rich, thick, sweet, right between pure PX and malt whisky. Plenty of liqueur-filled milk chocolate, raisins, Sauternes, then roasted nuts of various sorts and just a touch of bitter orange and green tobacco. Very sweet, but very excellent. With water: hurray, the herbs come out. Grapefruit skin, grass, white currants, bitter oranges… There’s a lovely sour bitterness as well. Finish: long, with more ‘green’ oak. That really gives it a grassy sour bitterness, but I’m not against this style. Comments: I always trust my compadres. They were right, and so were our Taiwanese friends. SGP:661 - 90 points.

Benriach 20 yo 1994/2014 (54.7%, OB, for Aroma TW, Oloroso Sherry Butt, cask #808, 678 bottles)

Benriach 20 yo 1994/2014 (54.7%, OB, for Aroma TW, Oloroso Sherry Butt, cask #808, 678 bottles) Five stars Taiwan again. A good sign! Colour: dark amber. Nose: a grassy, walnutty spirit with some earthy smoke. Nothing could go wrong and indeed, nothing goes wrong. Nutshell, some great old pu-erh from one of the best wild trees from the best mountain. With water: perfect. Leather and cigars. Right, some Partagas forgotten in the pocket of an old flying jacket. Mouth (neat): it’s extreme, and will probably not be to everyone’s liking – imagine someone that’s used to the ueberfruity Benriachs buying this without noticing the unusual pedigree. A very herbal smokiness, bags and bags of fresh walnuts, litres of walnut stain, and ‘sucking a cigar’. Really very extreme, with sides that remind me of the first Uigeadails. With water: some kind of super-aged Campari? The path was narrow, but it succeeded. Finish: long, very dry, cigary, leathery, gingery, smoky… And there’s some juniper too. Comments: a very impressive concoction fro thrill-seekers only. Perhaps. SGP:466 - 91 points.

Benriach 28 yo 1984/2013 (50.2%, OB, for Independent Spirit, PX sherry barrel, cask #1050, 261 bottles)

Benriach 28 yo 1984/2013 (50.2%, OB, for Independent Spirit, PX sherry barrel, cask #1050, 261 bottles) Four stars A PX barrel, that’s funny. Colour: dark amber. Nose: my beloved chestnut honey! Can you smoke chestnut honey and add some apple peelings and fresh walnuts? You’d get this – if you can. With water: love this. Cigars, old attic, old clothes, wax polish, castor oil… It’s definitely ‘antique’. Mouth (neat): more marmalady raisins and some cigars, plus redcurrant jam and quite some oak. Kumquats. With water: less a fan. It got a little too leafy for me – and I love leafy whiskies. Finish: quite long, with oranges, cigars, and a touch of rubber. Comments: it’s the milder peatiness that makes it a little hesitant at times. In short, there’s either too much, or not enough peat, that’s my feeling. Now, it remains a great whisky, don’t get me wrong! But I had the same feelings about the official sister cask in ‘batch 10’. SGP:464 - 85 points.

Benriach 24 yo 1985/2009 (50.6%, Signatory for Vinothek St.Stephan, cask #5500, bourbon, 218 bottles) Four stars No picture available, I’m afraid. It was bottled for a Viennese shop (been there once, not the most welcoming shop in the world, I’d say). Colour: gold. Nose: pure vanilla-ed fruity goodness. The opposite of all the others, a light, elegant, subtle fruity whisky, with some barley syrup, stewed apples, acacia honey, custard… With water: pure vanilla fudge. Great band by the way. Mouth: you’re drinking honeyed apple juice while crunching fudge. There are tropical fruits as well, but less than in earlier bottlings. Much less… With water: a fruit salad with some caramel and vanilla. Finish: quite long and a tad leafier, all for the better. Comments: you cannot be against these whiskies. Total smooth fruity Benriachness. SGP:651 - 87 points.

Benriach-Glenlivet 19 yo 1996/2015 (47.1%, Cadenhead, Small Batch)

Benriach-Glenlivet 19 yo 1996/2015 (47.1%, Cadenhead, Small Batch) Four stars Our friends in Campbeltown keep using the suffix ‘–Glenlivet’. One day, they’ll issue an Ardbeg-Glenlivet ;-). And that won’t be a blended malt… Colour: pale gold. Nose: the style of the 1985. Kellogg’s best, custard, barley syrup, apple pie, honey… I cannot imagine anyone having something bad to say about this style. Mouth: ah, some citrus. And apples, grapes, light honey, green bananas (the small ones they have in Cuba), limoncello… All that on a slightly grassy base. A touch of white chocolate, perhaps. Finish: medium, rather light, with more light honey and apple juice. A delicate maltiness. The aftertaste is a little bitter. Comments: typical well-aged fruity and light Benriach ex-good American wood. There might not be a lot happening (it’s not the US elections, is it), but there isn’t anything to complain about. Does the job. SGP:651 - 85 points.

A last one for the road…

Benriach 25 yo 1990/2015 (50.8%, Sansibar for S Spirit Shop, 239 bottles)

Benriach 25 yo 1990/2015 (50.8%, Sansibar for S Spirit Shop, 239 bottles) Three stars and a half Well, they may be having a strange idea of how a Scottish clansman does look like at Sansibar, but they sure know how to select whisky ;-). On the label, a Scot eating a deep-fried Mars bar. Colour: straw. Nose: there, there’s this freshness that wasn’t quite in the 1996. Around pollen and Alsatian Pinot Gris (what we used to call Tokay d’Alsace before the E.U.) Apple peelings, walnuts, broken branches, pbarley… With water: some gueuze, perhaps? Some artisan cider for sure. Mouth (neat): rather eau-de-vie-ish, with Williams pears and then plums and kirsch, with a wee meaty side. Ham in the still? With water: loses coherence. Sweet beer. Finish: medium, fruity and slightly yeasty. Like the honey in the aftertaste. Comments: one day, someone will have to tell us how and why Benriach lost its tropical side around 1980-1985. No more mangos, doesn’t that sound like the title of a Japanese avant-garde movie? SGP:551 - 83 points.

More tasting notes Check the index of all Benriach I've tasted so far



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March 15, 2016


The Benriach works, part one

Because we’ve got many to taste, and because we couldn’t have them all in one go, or we’d be dead. Well, not quite dead, but a ‘a little tired’ for sure.

Benriach 15 yo ‘Sauternes’ (46%, OB, +/-2015)

Benriach 15 yo ‘Sauternes’ (46%, OB, +/-2015) Two starsFinished in Sauternes casks. After all, why not, but let’s see if a very fruity whisky plus a very fruity wine won’t just make the result… ach, vulgarly fruity. Like some kinds of smoothies from McDonald’s… Colour: gold. Nose: soft and fruity indeed, but not totally heady. What’s a little bizarre is that I’m finding hints of fruity hoppy beer, as they like to make in California. Or perhaps Gueuze. And apricot wine? Mouth: too much. Love Benriach and love Sauternes, just as much as I love coffee and I love mustard. But I wouldn’t mix them. More sweet marzipan and caramel than in both marzipan and caramel. Indeed, I find it mucho overdone. Finish: quite long, and perhaps better, with some buttered tea, more apricots, and more overripe pears. Comments: I wouldn’t say it’s wrecked, not at all, but I find it very ‘premix-y’. Some kind of strange hybrid spirit… Some will like it a lot, though. Yeah, Martians (I am joking!!!) SGP:641 - 73 points.

Erm, we’ve got plenty of middle-aged Benriachs to taste today, but first, let’s go straight to a sure remedy…

Benriach 35 yo (42.5%, OB, +/-2015)

Benriach 35 yo (42.5%, OB, +/-2015) Five stars This baby should cure us… Colour: amber. Nose: Pablo Casals after Justin Bieber. A perfect combination of nectar, many honeys, some beeswax, several slightly overripe western fruits (apples, pears, plums) and several well-ripened topical ones (papayas, mangos). Add a drop of menthol oil and a little white chocolate. This is more than perfect, elegant, subtle, and yet ‘evident’, even if it hasn’t quite got the ‘evidence’ of some older vintages, such as 1968 or 1976. Mouth: ah, evidence indeed. It’s a clear case of an obvious oakiness that’s so well complemented with fruit jams and syrups that balance gets perfect. More papayas, sultanas, pineapple jam, apples, honeys… And indeed a tobacco-like oakiness, and even many tannins, but those are very ‘silky’. Finish: medium, rather on apricots this time, which makes it resemble the (better side of) the 15yo Sauternes. Exceptional touches of mint tea, Moroccan-style. We’re at the Gazelle d’Or in Taroudant, sipping this while listening to the (friendly) muezzin… Comments: a perfect example of a perfect balance between a fruity spirit and an assertive old oak. Totally perfect, IMHO. SGP:561 - 92 points.

Good, we’ve recovered, let’s go on with the younger ones…

Benriach 12 yo ‘Sherry Wood’ (46%, OB, +/-2015)

Benriach 12 yo ‘Sherry Wood’ (46%, OB, +/-2015) Three starsLast time we tried this expression, that was in 2010. Found it pretty goodish (WF 80), but that was six years ago. They say ‘matured in sherry wood’, so it might not be a finish. Colour: gold. Nose: what we had expected. Some raisins, some fudge, a faint grassy/spicy side (green pepper), some chocolate, praline (Nutella, actually), and a wee felling of mulled wine, with star anise and cinnamon. Works for me. Mouth: works indeed, even if there’s a tiny rubbery/spicy side, with some walnut oil and, well ‘sucking rubber bands’. But the whole’s very pleasant, rather firm, and quite different from other sherried Speysiders (say colleagues Glendronach). A little salted liquorice. Finish: good length, with more walnuts and drops of triple-sec. Comments: I’d happily drink a bottle. A rather firmer version of Benriach, and not a sweetish sherry. SGP:451 - 82 points.

Benriach 17 yo ‘Septemdecim’ (46%, OB, +/-2015)

Benriach 17 yo ‘Septemdecim’ (46%, OB, +/-2015) Four stars A peated one. Quite loved the early bottlings despite the wacky Roman name (WF 87 in 2012). Colour: white wine. Nose: was it still Seagram that made these peated batches? It’s one of the most delicate and elegant peat I’ve seen, although delicateness and elegance might not quite be what you’d expect from a peated whisky. Love these whiffs of old toolbox, penny book, castor oil, fresh oil paint, or linseed oil… It’s a very un-coastal peatiness, but the mainland sure has its charms. Mouth: I remember why I loved an earlier version, it’s because it’s so un-Islay. Salted cough syrup, ink, smoked salmon, ashes… I’m re-reading my old notes, and it seems that it used to be fruitier, while this one’s clearly more ashy/salty/sooty. Eating cigar ashes (while distracted). Finish: quite long, very ashy. I don’t quite know where this saltiness come from – doesn’t smoke trigger salt on our tongues? A debate to open on a whisky forum, one day… Comments: I think it got different, but quality’s similarly high. Forgot to mention lapsang souchong, this is very ‘lapsang-souchong-y’. No, we’re afraid of nothing. SGP:367 - 87 points.

A last one for today…

Benriach 17 yo 1998/2015 (48.9%, OB, for The Whisky Exchange, PX sherry finish, cask #7758, 704 bottles)

Benriach 17 yo 1998/2015 (48.9%, OB, for The Whisky Exchange, PX sherry finish, cask #7758, 704 bottles) Two stars and a half A PX finish, not always good news in my book, but anyway, I trust the very good people at TWE, they must have had their good reasons… Colour: amber with copper hues. Nose: mild, discreet, with notes of old books, dried mint leaves, Cadbury’s chocolate (they’re not all terrible!), and raisins. There are also whiffs of Moroccan mint tea, just like in the 35yo, which can’t be bad news. Mouth: ah, this is surprisingly quite good. It’s not that it’s not ridden with tiny flaws (Ginger tonic, fizzy lemon juice, rubbery jam) but it’s also interestingly herbal. And gingery. Normally, you’d expect from a PX some kind of slightly slutty sweetness (apologies), but that’s not the case at all here. But in fact, it’s getting a little too rubbery for me after five minutes. Loses steam and focus, and gets, well, rubbery. Not too good. Finish: medium, with rather more rubber and paraffin. Comments: well, I find it rather surprising that the very experienced and skilled folks at TWE would have selected this one. Or was it a French trainee, possibly a friend of a son or a daughter of Boris Johnson? Starts well on both nose and palate, but the rubber tends to take over. Not quite a fan, this time. SGP:361 - 77 points.

More tomorrow, maybe…

More tasting notes Check the index of all Benriach I've tasted so far



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March 2016 - part 1 <--- March 2016 - part 2 ---> April 2016 - part 1



Best malts I had these weeks - 90+ points only

Ardbeg 22 yo 1993/2016 (55.3%, Cadenhead, Single Cask)

Banff 1974/2003 (45%, Samaroli, 35th Anniversary, sherry wood, 360 bottles)

Banff 1975/2013 (43.7%, Malts of Scotland, selected by Dram Brothers, bourbon barrel, cask #MoS 13056)

Banff 20 yo 1976/1997 (56.4%, Cadenhead, Authentic Collection)

Benriach 20 yo 1994/2014 (54.7%, OB, for Aroma TW, Oloroso Sherry Butt, cask #808, 678 bottles)

Benriach 35 yo (42.5%, OB, +/-2015)

Highland Park 27 yo 1968 (43%, Hart Brothers, Finest Collection, +/-1995)

Springbank 19 yo 1996/2016 (54.9%, Archives, refill bourbon hogshead, cask #551, 239 bottles)

Springbank 19 yo 1996/2016 (56.4%, Archives, refill bourbon hogshead, cask #550, 284 bottles)

Tomatin 34 yo 1976/2011 (46%, Mo Òr Collection, sherry butt, cask #4, 954 bottles)